Professor of Aesthetics China People University
There has been aesthetic education since ancient times. It was because the ancient people had known the relation between aesthetics and education long ago. Since then, humans had connected one with the other consciously.
Aesthetic education is an education whose main means are aesthetic activities. The characteristic determined by the trait of the aesthetic activity of aesthetic education consists in the fact that it is a visual, affective, and free education. The characteristic of aesthetic education determines that it can do what moral, intellectual, and physical education cannot do. This constitutes the aim of aesthetic education. It mainly includes three aspects.
First is the cultivating of the aesthetic faculties which involve the cultivating of sentience, imagination, and understanding (mental power) and the cultivating of the aesthetic skill (the abilities to convey and create).
Second is the cultivating of aesthetic taste which is the cultivating of interest and feeling. The third is the cultivating of the aesthetic ideal which is the cultivating of the spirit, personality, and life philosophy.
So, aesthetic education directly relates to the comprehensive development of humans. In other words, it is a necessary condition for the comprehensive development of humans, which plays an overwhelming role in making social progress. Thus, the significance of aesthetic education becomes clear.
Xuxiao Wang, Professor of Philosophy Department at China People University, Beijing.
Aesthetic Education and the Comprehensive Development Of Human
Prof. Wang Xuxiao
China People University
In March 1993, at one meeting of the People’s Congress, Premier Zhu Rongji, the ex-Premier Minister of the Chinese government, advanced in the government report that we need to plant person with ability who is well and comprehensively developed in all aspects including morals, mentality, physical training, aesthetic feeling, and laboring. The same year, in June he emphasized the parlance again at a countrywide meeting for education. Mr. Jiang Zemin, the General Secretary of CPC, on 1st Feb. also stressed in his “Talk on Education” that we should channel off and help the juvenile grow up in the right way. At the 16th Soviet of CPU, the report insisted on the importance of aesthetic education and advocated that the education policy made by our Party should be carried out completely and drastically to cultivate the eligible erector and successor for our socialistic construction who is well and comprehensively developed in all aspects including morals, mentality, physical training, aesthetic feeling, and laboring. In our country, the Party and government have affirmed the function of aesthetic education adequately. Aesthetic education has established its status in the whole education system. All of these show that a person is comprehensively-developed and consummate unless he is well developed in the aspects of morals, mentality, physical training, aesthetic feeling, and laboring.
The origin of aesthetic education
From of old, aesthetic education has existed, for a long before human beings understood the relationship between aesthetic feeling and education, and related them together in practice consciously. In the west, in ancient Greek education, there was Muse education in their schooling education, which was art education such as musical education and drama education. This primary art education is the rudiment of aesthetic education. It aims to let students be self-regulating and be able to get rid of all faults, submit to harmoniousness and rhythm, and be used to gentleness and tenderness through music, singing, and reading. On the base of practical education, at that time many philosophizers and thinkers pointed out some thoughts about aesthetic education. In Plato’s opinion, it is needed to find some competent artists to describe the concinnity in nature so that students would get into the habit to love the beautiful thing and integrate it with their minds unknowingly and prevent influence from evil, debauchery, the contemptibility, and the obscenity. And Plato thought that the best education is music education, for music is to look for the beauty and the good in the heart and the person with good music education is smart to find out which the ugly is and which the beautiful is, and then he will abhor the former while absorbing the later to make his character being magnificent and politest. Aristotle also took note of music’s special status in aesthetic education. When he expounded on music’s social function, he talked about how music has functions on education, spiritualization, and spiritual enjoyment. And he protested that the tune and melody with ethical qualities should be chosen while something sad and dejected should be abandoned, which is especially for children.
In fact, aesthetic education in ancient Greece was art education which gave priority to music education, and it was a kind of special method of moral education. From ancient Greece on, the opinion has not been unfailing, and educators have taken aesthetic education as a method of moral education.
Before our Qin dynasty in the refulgent eastern civilization, people had realized the difference and relationship between Li, which is a specific way in ancient China to control the country, the society, and even people’s lives with morality principle systems, and Yue, which is also a specific way in ancient China to control the whole world with music that was always used in rituals, and Xing, which is penal, and Zheng, which is political. The ancient Chinese paid regard to Yue education. In ancient times, Yue education has a very wide range from music to dancing, from poems to painting. Yue education is actually art education and is to figure a person inside by edifying his temperament and improving his morality. Kong Zi, the first great educator in China paid much attention to art education both in his educational theory and in his educational practice. All of the 300 poems used in poem-education could be sung with rhythm and Li-education would not be itself without the corresponding music. With his own aesthetic experiences and art practice, Kong Zi thought that art’s function was not only to make a person feel happy and gain spiritual enjoyment but also to learn knowledge from it and refine his morality. So, he carried his point not by sermonizing dryly and training behaviors wearily but by inspiring poems in people and musical edification, although his education system aimed at Li-education and he chose it as the beginning. There is a kind of famous theory in Kong Zi’s thoughts about education that a successful person should be prospered in knowing poems, establishes himself as a citizen, and procures his right social status in knowing Li and fully grows up in knowing Yue. Yue-education is the last method to succeed in poem-education and Li-education. Kong Zi regarded Yue-education as the indispensable part to complete moral education and the function of Yue-education can not be indelible for the education, which started the first signs in Confucianism in putting enough focus on Yue-education.
In ancient times, whether in the west or in the east, aesthetic education belonged to moral education and its function was to reinforce moral education. So, it is obvious that aesthetic education, in ancient times, preferred to be more utilitarian. And the exceptive property and inimitable mission of aesthetic education were not made sure clear.
In neoteric times, the thoughts about aesthetic education began with Renaissance which reflected the human being’s rouse and the Bourgeois’ intense desire to be developed harmoniously. The thoughts about aesthetic education were really built up in Kant and Shiler’s aesthetics. Kant once gave out the proposition that Human is the ultimate intention of the world, which was a powerful challenge to teleology in the theology of the Middle-Century. He didn’t agree with the opinion that Nature is the ultimate intention of the world, but the existence of human beings should have a higher value than morality. He said that the consciousness of the good is the only thing that relates to the existence of human beings and let it be valuable absolutely just only because of this kind of existence so that the existence of the world could have the ultimate intention. For Kant, the aesthetic feeling is the utter “agency” for human beings when the natural human has become the moral human. As the result, aesthetic feeling certainly should be provided with the educational property.
Shiler accepted Kant’s thoughts and rebuilt them, and in his book, “Letters on Aesthetic Education”, he formally put forward the conception of aesthetic education and gave a detailed and systemic expatiation of its essential, social function, and significance. “Letters on Aesthetic Education” is the first academic composition in history that researched aesthetic education, and it is the symbol that meant the theory of aesthetic education had formed its own independent system. People named this book the manifesto of aesthetic education.
In “Letter on Aesthetic Education”, Shiler divided human nature into two parts. One is the unaltered personality, and the other is the altered personality. “Personality” equals logos or modality, and “estate” equals sensibility or content. In the ideal situation, the two are harmoniously united. But in reality, they are broken up. That is why there are two kinds of impulsion: sensibility-impulsion and sense-impulsion. The former is given to the general life, which requires the image of sense to receive the content of sensibility to make the potential capability to be realistic. The latter is given to the image, which requires the content of sensibility to receive the image of sense to make the variational world to be in harmony. In the situation of a personality’s abruption, sensibility-impulsion causes the person to be feeling the obligation from sensibility-desire while sense-impulsion causes the person to be feeling the obligation from sense-principle. It is the third impulsion, game-impulsion, that can be relied on to eliminate the personality’s abruption and unfree situation. Game-impulsion is given to the “live visualization”, which means beauty in general. Shiler thought that only when the person is in aesthetic view really with freedom, sensibility and sense can be in balance and the personality can be in integrity. Therefore, aesthetic education is the fundamental method for the person to achieve real freedom in his life.
Shiler considered that there should be three phases in the whole personality’s development, which means the three situations of presence: the nature person (person in sensibility), the aesthetic person, and the moral person (person in sense). There is any other way to change the nature person into a moral person except to change the nature person into the aesthetic person first. He figured out that there was the education for health, the education for knowledge, and the education for morality, but the most important one distinguishingly should be aesthetic education in the comprehensive development of human beings because the purpose of aesthetic education was to unite our sensibility ability with our spiritual ability mostly in harmony.
Generally, the opinion of Shiler showed the universal hope in human beings. He found the essential in aesthetic education at the level of Man’s evolution and development, which was Man’s self-perfection, and moreover, he thought out the relationship between society’s progress and aesthetic education.
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, when the old China had become a semi-colony-and-semi-feudal society, many men of insight, one after another, tried to find the principle from the West to save the nation in order to fight against the feudal autarchy and the warlord’s corrupt polity. Some educators and scholars accepted the thoughts about aesthetic education from Shiler and attempted to find out the approach of aesthetic education for saving the nation and reforming society. And there was a significant trend of thought on aesthetic education shaped.
Liang Qichao is the first person who introduced western aesthetics to the Chinese and integrated them with Chinese traditional aesthetics as the opener of Chinese aesthetic education in neoteric times. It was the first time when he figured out the concept of interest education, which is virtually sensibility education or aesthetic education. Sensibility education totally differs from sense education, for sense education is a kind of indoctrination outside while sensibility education is a kind of influence inside. Sensibility education roots in fostering the nobility in personalities to promote the person’s comprehensive improvement. Art is the most powerful means for sensibility education and the scenery in nature is a momentous tool for sensibility.
And Wang Guowei expounded on the special status of aesthetic education in the education system, which gave the difference between moral education and mentality education and their relationship, and he is the first man who thought that aesthetic education should be listed in the education guidelines. In 1906, his “On Education Tenet” was published in which he deemed that education must aim at bringing up “Entire Personality” with the development in physical abilities and spiritual abilities. In correspondence, he figured out “Entire Education”, which means to develop the person’s physical abilities with physical training, to develop the person’s spiritual abilities with spirit training. In his opinion, spirit training involves three parts: moral education, mentality education, and aesthetic education. Mentality education is for the good development of a person’s knowledge and intellect, moral education is for fostering a person’s excellent ethics and volition, and aesthetic education is for the accomplishment of the “Entire Person” and the achievement in the realm of the Real, the Good, and the Beauty by the good edification to the person’s spirit and sensibility. It was the first time that aesthetic education was opposed at the same level as the other three kinds of education. Wang Guowei found out the other side of aesthetic education that it could also be the method for moral education and mentality education so it must be regarded. Move importantly, he set forth the unique function and purpose of aesthetic education itself, which aesthetic education could develop the person’s sensibility, and make the person forget something about himself to enter the gracious and chaste realm. In this sense, aesthetic education is a kind of sensibility education.
After Wang Guowei, Cai Yuanpei had called for aesthetic education for about 20 or 30 years all the while and never stopped earnestly practicing what he advocated, which was a superexcellent contribution to the founding of the Chinese aesthetic education system in the neoteric times. He illuminated much more by the numbers for the thoughts on aesthetic education so he became the summarizer of all the thoughts on aesthetic education in the latter days. Cai Yuanpei definitely set forth the conception and the root of aesthetic education. He wrote that each one has sensibility, but not all have gracious and great behaviors because of the weakness of sensibility impulsion, and if you need to change it to be much stronger, you must edify yourself. And the tool of edification is the staff that make you feel beautiful and excellent. At the same time, the function of edification is called aesthetic education, and the pedagogue whose major was aesthetic education was requested to apply the theory of aesthetic education to the practice in order to edify the sensibility. Then, aesthetic education could help the person to have no idea except for aesthetic feeling, so he would enter the realm in which he can not differ himself from others and all the things in the world are becoming himself or his friend.
In the discussion about the status of aesthetic education in the whole education, Cai Yuanpei opposed taking aesthetic education as dependent on moral education and he thought that aesthetic education should have its own status that was at the same level as moral education, mentality education, and physical training. He pointed out that moral education was the center of the whole education, but the realization of moral education was made with the help of mentality education land aesthetic education. The feature of aesthetic education showed in the pervasion into the other three kinds of education. Whether it is moral education or mentality education or physical training, the element of aesthetic education is involved in all of them.
Cai Yuanpei, as well, opposed the opinion view that aesthetic education equals art education or mainly fine art education. In his view, there was much more included in aesthetic education than in fine art education. The practice of aesthetic education must be spread out by all things which would make the person feel beautiful and good which means not only art methods such as architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature, but also fine art museums, theatres, parks, cemeteries, the design to cities and suburbs and the individual behaviors. Moreover, the function of aesthetic education and of fine art education was almost different.
Of Cai’s thoughts on aesthetic education, the most obvious and famous was his theory on “Replacing Religion With Aesthetic Education”. In western traditional education, religion dominated ordinary education for it has the element of moral education and of mentality education, and physical training, which turned the whole education into the vassal of religious education. With the development of our society, moral education, mentality education, and physical training were set free from the bondage of religion and were independent. Religion could influence people from the element of beauty such as the awful and grand churches, the exquisite and magnificent sculptures and paintings, and churches’ music and epithalamiums. Hence, there were two different opinions: one wanted to separate religion and aesthetic education, and the other wanted to link the two of them. Wang Guowei held the opinion that the two were coordinated while CAI Yuanpei thought that it is only aesthetic education that can replace the religious. He found three reasons for it. Firstly, aesthetic education was free, but the religious was compulsive; secondly, aesthetic education was in advance while the religious was conservative; thirdly, aesthetic education was popular, but the religious was limited. The methods of aesthetic education in religion served religion and they could not bring people pure aesthetic feeling. Sometimes, they would do something to moral education and mentality education. That was the reason why we can not replace aesthetic education with the religious and the only thing we can do is to replace the religious with aesthetic education. In politics, the viewpoint was in great advance. But from his points, we can find out that he claimed the use of aesthetic education to save the nation, for he thought beauty was universal. Once people know the “universal beauty”, they could free themselves from others’ opinions and stop thinking about what they gained or what they lost in their lives, which is useful to realize the idea of freedom, equality, and humanity.
Obviously, in neoteric times in China, the theory of aesthetic education had independence property correspondingly. People had recognized the relationship between aesthetic education, moral education, mentality education, and physical training, all of which supplement each other. Moreover, people had put more attention to the exploration of the unique property and task of aesthetic education. It is can be said that we had united aesthetic education with the person’s comprehensive development.
The Characteristic Of Aesthetic Education
In the history of aesthetic education, it means a kind of educational activity that is composed of aesthetic activities (art activities) as its main methods so that aesthetic education owns its characteristics. The characteristics of aesthetic education mean the unique property that makes it differ from moral education, mentality education, and physical training, especially from the two formers. The unique property is determined by the specialty in aesthetic activity.
At first, in the aspect of the teaching method, aesthetic education is a kind of visual education, which means there are certain mediums needed in aesthetic education to let itself be in reality. As the medium, it must be the things that could bring people aesthetic feeling, and the existence of the things must have the sensibility image which can be seen and felt. People enter the aesthetic world by feeling the sensibility image, then make their sensibility flourishing and leaving the miscellaneous hullabaloo of the common world to go into the implied realm of the aesthetic objects. The process of aesthetic activity is the free movement in which the desire for worldly material gain is abandoned. In the aesthetic world, the person’s sensory organs and heart are pacified, nourished, and cleaned. When people come back to their ordinary lives on earth, it likes like they have changed themselves completely to become “new”, for their souls have been purified and they have benefited from being in the aesthetic kingdom. More communions with the aesthetic objects, more enlightenment received. The aesthetic object is a guider, and people can achieve the aesthetic feeling only by the instinctive apperception of the image. To achieve the aesthetic feeling is the only way to enter the aesthetic realm at a higher level that is the experience world and in experiences, the deeper meaning of the object can be held finally. Thereby, aesthetic education is always Image education all along.
Image education and intuitionist education are not proprietary to aesthetic education. People often use image education in moral education and mentality education, which is different from the one used in aesthetic education.
In mentality education, conceptions, judgments, and illations in logos are taught to the educator. It pursues the perspicuity in conception, the veracity in judgment, and the strictness in illation. Directly, it acts on the person’s sense ability. Image education is also used for mentality education, for the object that aesthetic education depends on including artworks, by itself, is an important resource of knowledge. For human beings, whether for the individual or for the colony, the development of the thinking ability will pass through the process from the realistic to the abstract, and from the sensibility to the sense. In human childhood, just when the ancestry had evolved themselves to be apart from the animal, they had no ability to form conceptions of things and to do the judging. At that time, all of their knowledge almost came from intuitionist sensibility. With the help of the continual development of human beings’ practice and knowledge, man’s ability to form conceptions from the abstract had come into being and developed. The development of the individual’s thinking ability shared the same process with the development of the human being’s thinking ability in totally speaking. The achievement of knowledge in childhood almost depends on the education of intuitionist sensibility. After growing up to adults, for the image is easily impressionable, it is often used to gain knowledge, widen the range of knowledge, and win experiences in life. But the ultimate aim of mentality education is to find out the indeed, then all in mentality, from the realistic to the abstract, education is required to serve the argument. After reaching the last destination which means man knows the indeed in the whole world, the process will be forgotten and discarded. In fact, it is impossible that image education will be used in mentality education all along, and sometimes, even nothing about image education will be attached to mentality education. As a result, mentality education and aesthetic education can be distinguished from each other.
The main method in moral education is the argument. With moral education, people can accept and obey all behavior rules made for all members living in a certain social community. But image education is useful during the process of moral education. Especially, the usage of images in the art can do something that the argument can not do because the art image comes from real life but is above it. Not only it includes the judgment and estimation of all the situations happening in society from artists, but it has a strong influence because of its aesthetic form. When people enjoy themselves in art, the enjoyment of the beautiful and of the ugly in art images will program into the judgment of the real, of the fake, of the kind, and of the evil in the content. Then people will choose the right and discard the wrong and will avoid the evil but take in the good. Thus, the method of aesthetic education is important to moral education, and moreover, the edification from aesthetic education often brings out the spiritualization in morality so as to let people be in the nobility of the personality realm. But the last intention in moral education is to find out the kind, which is the reason why it also requires the process from the visual to the abstract for servicing the argument. Same as mentality education, image education is not the main method for moral education. As a result, moral education and aesthetic education can be distinguished from each other.
Secondly, in the aspect of the method given to the educator, aesthetic education is a kind of sensibility education. That means aesthetic education should inspire the sensibility activity of the educatee, and act on their soul with the function of the sensibility experiences.
In aesthetic activity, because of the inspiration of the aesthetic object, the person participating in the aesthetic activity will firstly hold a kind of sensibility attitude to the aesthetic object, which is the affirmative attitude or the negative attitude. The attitude is the key to deciding whether aesthetic education can be carried out favorably. If the educator takes a negative attitude toward the sensibility of the aesthetic object being the necessary medium for aesthetic education, aesthetic activity will be ended. On the other way, if the educator takes the affirmative attitude, he will put himself into the experiences from the aesthetic object of his own accord. The experience is the medium to unite the subject and the object and is the instinctive apperception of the real meaning in the aesthetic object. Just in experiences, inside information of life shows itself to people and makes people benefit from it. The experience world is the sensibility world by itself. The aesthetic activity is not to give knowledge and technique to people, and it isn’t to provide some behavior rules to the world but to direct the acceptor’s sensibility. Maybe it will let people love something or hate something, and feel something good or evil. And people will accept the sense of contentment when feeling sensibility. Aesthetic education uses sensibility to move the person and does not persuade the person with principles. It focuses on sensibility instead of the sense. The characteristic determines that the educator can arrive at the purpose of aesthetic education just during the aesthetic experience.
Sensibility experience in aesthetic education differs from moral education and mentality education. Mentality education relates to scientific knowledge, and characters of science decide that mentality education is in the field where need sensibility takes part in the least. What it pursues is the objective validity of knowledge, and what it shows is the power of sense. An axiom will work on the matter of whether people will accept it in sensibility. As an axiom, it is the law. There is no choice for the subject. Of course, during the process of mental education, people will be happy when they discover something new or conquer something difficult. But this kind of happiness comes from the affirmation of the person’s sense of ability, and it is a result not happen in the process. The educator doesn’t need to experience it, or it is can not be experienced in most situations. Moral education aims to make people take up some certain moral will and moral notion to let their behavior be standard. It deals more with people’s understanding and judgment of good and evil. All through understanding and judgment is with people’s sensibility, it is a kind of sensibility that lays particular stress on sense and connects with the social ideology more closely. And there are objectivity and class consciousness influenced in the judgment, it is different from the individual’s unique experience in sensibility when he is taking aesthetic education. As a result, the sensibility experience of aesthetic education is the main character that differentiates aesthetic education from moral education and mentality education.
Thirdly, in the aspect of the effect of aesthetic education, it is a kind of education of happiness. It is can be said that aesthetic education is the education from which the educator can feel happy and be taught in enjoyment.
Aesthetic activity is the spiritual activity in freedom, in which people enjoy themselves in both body and mind from the activity. Aesthetic education gives priority to aesthetic activity as the main education means. This is why the process when people take in aesthetic education is the process of spiritual enjoyment or spiritual consumption at a higher level, and also during it, people can enjoy themselves in spirit. Only when aesthetic education gives enjoyment completely and comprehensively to the person’s sense and spirit, the prospective effect can be taken out. Thereby, in aesthetic education, there is no compulsive method used and the educator takes into it self-consciousness and his own will. If the educatee thinks that he is controlled, or only has a kind of consciousness of being dominated, the effect will be on the opposite side. Thus, aesthetic education is happiness education, and in it, the person will be educated in enjoyment. The aesthetic education is among pleasure, which means the education itself has the property of enjoyment and the educatee takes in the education in happiness.
Of course, the enjoyment in aesthetic education includes education, and it is not just for enjoyment or happiness. The primary in it is to let the educatee take in education in enjoyment and happiness. As a result, aesthetic education differs from general aesthetic activity, for it is not the enjoyment activity that people take spontaneously but the systemic education activity with purpose and material content.
The specific purpose of aesthetic education
The specific purpose of aesthetic education is different from the ones of moral education, mentality education, and physical education. Aesthetic education functions where other education can’t. The discourses of former researchers, such as ‘raising a love of beauty (Plato), ‘cultivating the totality of our sensibility and mind power to an extent of harmony’ (Shiller), and ‘aiming to edify people’s sensations’ (Cai Yuanpei), as I have presented above, all underlined the specificity and particular function of aesthetic education. The purpose of aesthetic education includes three main parts: cultivating the aesthetic faculties, edifying the minds and souls, and raising the decent aesthetic.
Cultivating the aesthetic faculties is one of the main purposes of aesthetic education.
Intensely, the aesthetic faculties represent the sense of aesthetic: a sensual ability that is relevant to the need for aesthetics. It can make people feel the “property that makes people pleased” (Karl Marx: The collected edition of Marx and Engels, volume 26, book 3, page 326, Beijing, Renmin Publisher, 1980) of objects, which means the form property of objects. In the meantime, aesthetic faculties include abundant imagination as well as profound comprehension.
The aesthetic faculties are the result of learning, instead of inborn abilities. More ever, the acquisition of aesthetic abilities attributes mostly to aesthetic education. This kind of education means the education of forms and senses; hence it can focus on the training of the senses and the ability to apperceive. Based on this training, imagination and intellect are reinforced, the structure of aesthetic psychology is improved, and the aesthetic faculties are fostered on different levels.
During aesthetic education, the multi-appearance of aesthetical objects may reinforce the sensual organ’s acuity toward the forms. Therefore, highly aesthetical perception and decent taste are formed. In the past, the very task was fulfilled in people’s daily practice unconsciously. Due to this unconscious situation, aesthetic faculties are developed without balance. For instance, a musician’s children often exceed the non-musician families’ children in musical talents while a painter’s children often show great abilities in grasping the forms, colors, and proportions. The particular circumstances in their families make them influenced by the aesthetical objects that they constantly see and hear, thus one of their sense organs are developed to an extent that exceeds that of ordinary people. The purpose of aesthetic education is to use the aesthetical objects spontaneously, especially the image of art production to fulfill this education task.
The sensational images represent during the process of aesthetic activities are sparse as well as isolated, while profuse as well as connected. The abundance and affiliation are represented and excavated by imagination. So imagination can not be substituted during the aesthetic process, through which abundant imagination abilities are developed. Aesthetical comprehension is raised in the same process. It is because, in the process, people get the deeper and deeper meaning through the representations, and understand the “significance” of the forms. With the addition of training in an aesthetical skill, one can get the integrated aesthetic faculties, who then can enjoy the beauty and creates art by the rule of aesthetics in the meanwhile.
Aesthetic education can also edify people’s temperaments.
The temperament which is a part of the individual sensible life of people refers to individuality and desire. Thus it connects with an individual’s desire and intention, bearing with the essence of narrow utilitarianism and self-interest.
People’s temperaments could be changed. Somehow because it is a part of the individual sensible life, some rational education, such as morals and ethics, could only impose the exterior discipline and confinement upon people, yet can not go to the deepest part of people’s souls. On the contrary, as a kind of emotional education, aesthetic education can lead people into the activities of aesthetics, get pleasure during feeling and experiencing the objects, then functions at people’s temperament. It is because the pleasure obtained in the aesthetic originates from the inner feeling of the heart. Pleasure is the shocking of the heart, ablution of senses, and transcendence of souls that are acquired by enjoying the aesthetic objects and tasting the meaning the objects contain. The whole process could be called edifying, which acts by exerting a subtle influence on people. That is exactly like what DuFu had written when he described how spring rain embellishes the world, (see A welcome Rain One Spring Night, DuFu), also what Liang Qichao had written in the Relation between the Novel and Social Order. It is a process of immersing people instead of having people disciplined. The edifying of Aesthetic education will construct a life attitude that is beyond practical materialism, thus will change people’s temperaments. Aesthetic education edifies people in one’s deepest mind, so the functions are stable and continuous.
The edifying of temperaments will lead to an integrated personality. A personality which refers to people’s character, temperament, gifts, etc, means one’s moral property also. Personality will undergo a progressive construction. In aesthetic activities, what the object contains always exerts a subtle influence on people, leading people to a higher level of enjoying beauty. When this process functions on people, people get moved and get rid of the thought of self-interest. In the same process, the real human essence that makes a person human is uncovered. People will be liberated from the confinement of self-interest and fetishism. Aesthetic education thus leads one upward to an infinite and free spiritual world, with a noble and decent personality thus constructed.
Aesthetic education’s urgent task is to help the educated one to build a decent aesthetic point of view.
People’s activities are ruled by their worldview, in which the aesthetic plays an important role. People need to distinguish the difference between the true and the false, the good and the bad, as well as the beautiful and the ugly. A decent aesthetic point of view means the ability to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly, to know what beauty is, and to maintain a fine aesthetic judgment.
Besides the judgment of formal beauty, which is relatively independent of the content, the other aesthetic judgments are historical, confined, and influenced by races, histories, cultures, classes, etc. Individuals are restricted and influenced by everyone’s worldview. For an instance, once in a while in our country, nude sculptures are banned because they are considered obscene, or reprobated as the symbol of bourgeois decayed lifestyles. It is not only unenlightened and too “left”, but also a clear proof of undistinguishing the beauty and the ugly. In everyday life, it is no use to have big principles talk to people when they have problems with aesthetic judgments. Those talks will only make people repugnant. Only by aesthetic education could people be made to see the difference between the beautiful and the ugly, could they build a right world view and aesthetic view, and could they eliminate the filthy desire.
The special mission of aesthetic education
The specific purpose of aesthetic education just represents the special mission that aesthetic education undertakes: to care about and develop people’s sensibility. Hence this education is an indispensable buckle in integrating people’s development and means a lot for social development.
The comprehensive development of people refers to the abundance and development of human essence. The human essence basically refers to what the inborn need of humans. The power of the human essence is the whole representation of human life. The initiator of Marxism once pointed out that human essence is what they need. However, the human essence has been enriched and developed in human practice, which is why people differ from other animals and how a human becomes human.
The human essence and the power of human essence include the parts of both physical and spiritual. The former refers to the manual while the latter refers to the sensibility and reason. The human being always advocates Reason. Their spiritual activities are ruled by reason. Furthermore, the reason is what makes humans become human beings. Reason provides people with more abilities to control, coordinate and take the rein in nature and society, thus people and society develop upward. Moral education and intellectual education are all means to enhance people’s level of reason.
However human beings’ nature of sensibility can’t be denied. People ask for a life of sensibility. In the far-flung evolution of history, human’s sensible life continued to be disciplined by reason, amassed with social cultures, and represent the power of human essence. For example, when eating becomes gourmand, the pleasures obtained by food will not only happiness being filled. When sex becomes love, love will get beyond the natural relationship between the two genders, and will become a noble human emotion. Yet, the nature of the life of sensibility can not be changed radically. People can never get rid of sensual living. Just as Shiller had described in his On the Aesthetic Education of Man–even in the most barbarian souls there is a trace of reason and freedom, just as there is a dullish natural state in the most educated man. Therefore aesthetic education undertakes the task to upgrade human sensual life and making sensibility have more human essence.
What is more important is that human sensibility and emotion are the deepest dynamic sources that drive people’s activities. Karl Marx once pointed out that a human as a natural being who has life, natural force, and vital force, is a subjective natural being. Those forces impose on people as gifts and aptness as well as desires. On the other hand, human has the natures of nature, flesh, sensuality, and objectivity, just like animal and plant. Therefore human being is a passive, restricted, and limited beings. In a word, the objects of his desire exist outside of him as objects independent of him. However, he needs those objects, which are important, to represent and certificate his power of human essence. (see. collected edition Marx and Engels, volume 42, pages 167-169)
What Marx pointed out is that the natural force which is represented as natural desire and need is the inborn essential power of human beings. It drives people to act and develop at the fundamental level. So in the long run of human beings’ development, the life of sensibility is and still will be the driving force of human activity and achievement. Lenin once mentioned that without human passion, there will never be any pursuit of the truth. (see, collected edition Lenin, volume 25, page 117, Beijing, Renmin publisher, 1988)
We can get a conclusion through people’s everyday practice, that people’s interests and passion are the driving force of all potential and talent. We could declare people with no interest and passion can not be called a living humans. Also, a man who has no love of life and other people is an unbalanced man.
Consequently, an integrated man should be a man at the harmony of sensibility and reason. The one who has only a part of them can not be integrated. Intellectual and moral education will enhance people’s reason, while the abundance of sense and the raising of passion for life will boost people’s sensibility. The combination of reason and sensibility is the final solution to integrating people. Only aesthetic education of man can boost the abundance of sense and the raising of passion for life. So aesthetic education is indispensable for a complete man. Aesthetic education means much for social development.
First, the improvement of aesthetic education has a great effect not only on art production but also on material production. Nowadays, it relates directly to the problem that whether people create and produce by the rule of aesthetics. The rule of beauty is the rule of forms and the rule that forms become beautiful. Producing by the rule of aesthetics is to endow practical objects with beautiful forms. If we don’t have the aesthetic sense of beautiful forms, we can’t have practiced the rule of aesthetics. As long the development of human society, people ask for more about beauty. People demand not only more art production to fulfill man’s spiritual needs, but also ask for aesthetical elements in everyday production. As a result, technical aesthetics has grown up, in the meantime, the art design is recognized for its importance. So the improvement of human sensibility and imagination provides conditions for both the developing of art and material production. Human aesthetic faculties’ great improvement will enhance the aesthetic grades of the whole society.
Second, there is a process of edifying people’s temperament and integrating people’s personality during aesthetic activities, in which human builds a harmony relationship with the world, people, and nature around them. Harmony changes the spiritual and cultural life of the whole society, which exactly changes the ethos and fashion of society. A harmonious society and its spiritual life influence the human spirit and personality in return. It’s a cycling process that makes society better and better.
Thirdly, the passion and the decent aesthetic obtained in the process of aesthetic education will influence human practice. The passion will let people devote themselves to their own careers. A decent aesthetic can guarantee people will not go in the wrong direction when they are after beauty. Hence its great function in the development of society is evident.
From this point, aesthetic education is absolutely not a career that belongs only to several educators and aesthetes but belongs to the whole society and human beings. Also, it is not only some unique means of education, but a systematic project for self-making, self-developing, and self-perfection of the whole human being.
Xuxiao Wang, Professor of Philosophy Department at China People University, Beijing.